Grace Cathedral, up on the heights of Nob Hill above downtown San Francisco, is an uplifting space.
It’s a pure thirteenth-century Gothic cathedral, built of concrete between 1928 and 1964 to the designs of Lewis Parsons Hobart (1873-1954) to replace a predecessor destroyed in the 1906 earthquake. Hobart’s wife was a cousin of William H Crocker, the donor of the site.
In the tradition of much older churches, the interior of Grace Cathedral is an essay and a narrative, with murals by Jan Henryk De Rosen, and stained glass by Charles Connick of Boston and Gabriel Loire of Chartres, two of the greatest stained-glass designers of the twentieth century. The bronze Ghiberti west doors are the reproductions that the Nazis made of the Florentine originals which they removed during the Second World War. The 44-bell carillon in the north tower was built by Gillett & Johnston of Croydon, and donated by a Methodist dentist from Penzance, Nathaniel T Coulson: it was first played in 1940.
It’s a beautiful building to visit – light, spacious, peaceful, welcoming. The glass tints the interior blue, Gabriel Loire’s preferred colour because, he said, “La paix donne la joie.” (Peace gives joy.) There are two labyrinths, one on the forecourt and the other at the west end of the nave – mysterious aids to meditation based on the medieval original at Chartres.
There’s something curiously Californian about this inclusive, relaxed place that takes itself seriously with delicacy.
The Grace Cathedral website is at http://www.gracecathedral.org.
For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Survivals & Revivals: past views of English architecture, please click here.